Faculty Row № 7—Cowles House (1857, 1950) SR
Cowles House, August 2006. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.
Cowles House started life as one of four brick cottages built as the first faculty residences on campus in 1857. The bricks used in its construction were made of clay dug from the banks of the Red Cedar River and fired in a temporary kiln in the hollow near West Circle Drive south of Beal Entrance. Early M.A.C. Presidents Joseph R. Williams (1857–59) and Theophilus C. Abbot (1862–1884) are said to have lived here.
As the Faculty Row expanded and a new President’s residence was built, the house became known as “Number 7” and for many years was the residence of the Professor of Botany. As such, it housed such luminaries as William Beal and Ernst Bessey.
Faculty Row № 7, residence of the Professor of Botany, circa 1913.
The front porch is a “much later” addition. Photo Credit: Beal, p. 35.
Between 1874 and 1941, № 7 was remodeled and expanded several times. With the appointment of John A. Hannah as President in 1941, the house became once again the President’s residence, and was rechristened Cowles House after Alice B. Cowles, mother of Frederick Cowles Jenison (M.A.C. ’06). Jenison, grandson of Albert Cowles (who as one of M.A.C.’s first students in 1857 helped to haul the bricks), died a millionaire and bequeathed his entire estate to his alma mater, which provided funding for Jenison Fieldhouse (1940) and a major renovation to Cowles House (1950).[Kestenbaum, p. 52]
Although Cowles House is widely known as “the oldest building on campus,” only two of № 7’s original exterior walls, and a portion of the original stone foundation, remain in place: the front entrance façade and the adjacent wall on the east elevation. They can be discerned by the decorative brickwork at the eave line and gables. (The oldest building on campus in essentially its original form is the Library–Museum.)
Cowles House, utterly obscured by thousands of ‘Merrill’ magnolia blossoms, Spring 1994. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.